Interventions on the first four days of the Immigration Bill (debates held in January and February 2016) follow:
Peer urges Britain to help THOUSANDS of migrant children as crisis spirals out of control
BRITAIN must lead the way in helping thousands of unaccompanied migrant children who have gone missing, a peer has urged.
02:44, Thu, Feb 4, 2016 | UPDATED: 04:04, Thu, Feb 4, 2016
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Lord Alton urged Britain to help thousands of missing migrant children
Earlier this week Europol, the European Union’s criminal intelligence agency, estimated 10,000 desperate youngsters had vanished since fleeing to Europe.And Lord Alton of Liverpool yesterday urged the Government to do more to protect children escaping war zones.
He said said it was Britain’s duty to set international standards in helping such children, as it had done combating modern slavery.
As the Lords debated the Immigration Bill, Lord Alton said: “Of more than one million migrants and refugees who arrived in Europe last year, Europol estimates that 27 per cent of them are children.”If thousands of child migrants have vanished in Europe then it is clearly not an issue on which we can be complacent.”
It is clearly not an issue on which we can be complacent
Britain “must provide flagship legislation” in a bid to “safeguard children” fleeing to the continent, he added.
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Some 10,000 children have vanished since fleeing to Europe
The shocking number of missing migrant children was revealed by Europol chief of staff Brian Donald on Monday.He said: “It’s not unreasonable to say that we’re looking at 10,000-plus children.
“Not all of them will be criminally exploited. Some might have been passed on to family members. We just don’t know where they are, what they’re doing or whom they are with.”
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Experts have warned criminals are seeking to exploit refugees
Mr Donald warned of an “entire criminal infrastructure” dedicated to exploiting migrants.He said: “There are prisons in Germany and Hungary where the vast majority of people arrested and placed there are in relation to criminal activity surrounding the migrant crisis.”
Criminal gangs known to be involved in human trafficking were now being caught exploiting refugees, he added.
Parliamentary Proceedings on the Immigration Bill 2016:
also see –
Day One of Committee
18 Jan 2016 : Column 570 – Gangmasters Licensing Authority
The Morecambe Bay Cockle Pickers
Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB): My Lords, earlier today a number of noble Lords referred to their misgivings about the changes being made to the Gangmasters Licensing Authority. During the passage of the modern-day slavery and human trafficking legislation, I moved amendments on the GLA and queried its ability to meet its obligations because of the resources made available to it—a point referred to earlier by my noble and learned friend and by other Members of your Lordships’ House during our earlier debates. During the passage of that legislation, I moved amendments to enable the GLA to utilise assets from the proceeds of the crimes that it had investigated. In doing so, I reminded the House of the events which led to the genesis of the GLA, notably the 23 Chinese men and women who drowned in Morecambe bay after their Liverpool gangmasters took them to undertake cockle picking. At the time, a local fisherman, Harold Benson, described the tragedy as not only awful beyond words but absolutely avoidable.
In December 2014, during the passage of the legislation on modern-day slavery, I told the House that the lessons of Morecambe bay had not been fully learned. I described a similar incident in the Ribble estuary in which 17 cockle pickers of eastern European origin had been snatched to safety. In those debates, I cited the small number of personnel employed by the GLA, the cut, which I referred to earlier, of around 17% in the GLA’s budget between 2011 and 2014, the small number of convictions—just seven—and the research by the University of Durham calling for the mandate of the GLA to be extended. Instead of seeing an expansion of the GLA’s remit in order to prevent labour exploitation, there are genuine fears that the Government’s amendments that we are considering represent a severe threat to the GLA, with changes to its role, remit and name resulting in a greatly weakened licensing labour inspection regime. If this comes to pass, it would inevitably allow new labour abuses, such as those I have just described, to abound.
The main issue revolves around the creation of what has been described as flexible licensing standards without a requirement for affirmative procedures. Government Amendment 77 to omit the requirement for the GLA to make rules by statutory instrument in effect means that the GLA has power to amend licensing standards and must—this is changed from “may” in the original GLA Act—seek approval of the Secretary of State, but not Parliament. The Secretary of State still retains the power she always has had under Section 6(2) of the Gangmasters (Licensing) Act to remove by negative procedure certain circumstances in which labour providers do not require a licence.
In summary, these amendments, taken with existing powers, mean that the Secretary of State could greatly reduce by negative procedure the number of labour providers licensed in a GLA sector, as suggested by the recent consultation response, and could greatly reduce the licence standards to be applied to those who are licensed with no requirement for any statutory instrument. This appears to be what the Government mean when they talk about flexible licensing, which was put forward in the consultation and supported by just 19%—less than one in five—of the respondents.
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The Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee published a report on the new government amendments only last Friday and found that these new powers to change rules without parliamentary approval are inappropriate and therefore should be removed from the Bill. Focus on Labour Exploitation states that,
“the GLA is a first line of defence against the labour abuses that develop into severe exploitation and modern slavery. We are extremely concerned that a new ‘flexible’ licensing regime as proposed in these amendments will leave the GLA powerless to prevent widespread abuses and therefore exploitation and instead caught up in police style investigations that absorb a huge amount of time and resources”.
In our debate on the Modern Slavery Act, the noble Baroness, Lady Garden of Frognal, answering for the Government said:
“We need to consider this carefully and ensure that in seeking to broaden the GLA’s remit, we do not undermine the good work that is being done already”.—[Official Report, 10/12/14; col. 1879.]
I entirely concur with that sentiment. We must be very careful indeed not to do precisely that.
The noble Baroness also said:
“The GLA is working with the University of Derby to devise training and to develop an anti-slavery training academy for use by supply chain businesses. This will build on the GLA’s excellent existing collaboration with business in its regulated sectors. The GLA is well placed to tackle the serious worker exploitation that lies between the more technical compliance offences that fall to be investigated by HMRC and the serious and organised crimes that are addressed by the National Crime Agency”.—[Official Report, 10/12/14; cols. 1880-81.]
Presuming that this is the aim of today’s amendments, what are the resource implications? This point was made earlier by my noble and learned friend and other Members of your Lordships’ House. Without the necessary resources, how on earth will this agency be able to do these things? Clearly the Government envisage an expanded role. This will include police-style investigations and powers for offences across the labour market. Alongside this is the proposal to have a more flexible approach to licensing.
The Minister needs to be clear about whether the aim of the amendments published on the very day that the consultation concluded—which hardly demonstrates that there was a long period of reflection—is to remove strict compliance obligations from those businesses which have been compliant hitherto or whether it is to give the GLA more teeth. I wonder what the Minister makes of the minimal support which the flexibility proposal received from the respondents—just 19% out of a total of, I think, 93 respondents to the consultation, who came from academia, charities, trades unions and industry.
Existing GLA licence standards are crafted to give strong protection against exploitation. That includes issues such as working hours, pay, accommodation and safe transport. Clearly, flexible licensing should not mean a reduction in licensing. This must not become a sort of trade-off between licensing as a means of raising labour standards and preventing exploitation and a more flexible approach that could divert time and resources to tackling extreme cases instead. That in turn would create a climate in which rogue gangmasters could flourish and undermine the
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excellent intentions of the legislation we passed on human trafficking and exploitation of people as modern-day slaves.
Furthermore, the amendment removes a requirement for the GLA to make rules by negative procedure—a point made earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, when we were dealing with the earlier amendments. In effect this will mean that the GLA would have the power to amend licensing standards and must seek the approval only of the Secretary of State and not of this House or the other place. The Secretary of State still retains, and always has had, the power to remove certain categories of labour providers requiring a licence by negative procedure. These amendments mean that the licence standards to be applied to labour providers in a given sector could be significantly reduced or expanded without parliamentary scrutiny. Unless Parliament is engaged in the shaping of licence standards, changes could be made without a clear evidential basis and without proper and full consultation with all stakeholders with expertise in labour sector licensing requirements. GLA licensing rules should not be changed without detailed impact assessments, including worker consultation, which might assure Parliament that any changes would not negatively impact upon the vulnerable workers whom they are designed to protect.
In conclusion, when the modern-day anti-slavery legislation was enacted, it had the benefit of pre-legislative scrutiny and of the forensic examination by both Houses. That is not the case with what is before us today. We would be wrong to treat this avalanche of amendments lightly or to be pushed pell-mell into approving them in haste.
The role and resources available to the Director of Labour Market Enforcement
Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, these amendments, which I support, raise both the role and resources available, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee and the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, described, to the Director of Labour Market Enforcement. Reading though the exchanges in another place, it is clear that the Government were uneasy at Report stage about the lack of clarity in the Bill. Otherwise, why would the Minister, Mr James Brokenshire, have given an assurance to the House of Commons that they would go away and reflect on the matter? Therefore, it would be interesting to hear today the outcome of those reflections.
Certainly, looking at what was said in another place, there are some contradictions obvious to anyone who reads those exchanges. The Minister said, for instance, in Committee:
“We intend the director’s remit to cover labour market breaches, not immigration offences”.—[Official Report, Commons, Immigration Bill Committee, 27/10/15; col. 163.]
That is very straightforward. However, at a later stage, he said:
“The provision is not intended to stray into the separate issues of immigration enforcement, but if cases of people who are here illegally are highlighted, the director would be duty-bound to report that and to pass on intelligence through the hub that is being created”.—[Official Report, Commons, Immigration Bill Committee, 27/10/15; col. 166.]
I would therefore like to know what happens when there is a contradiction between those two roles. Where there is a protective role and an enforcement role, what would be the director’s expected priority in those circumstances? We said throughout the proceedings on the modern day slavery and human trafficking legislation that it should always be victim focused. Is this a derogation from that, or are we simply being consistent with what we did before? The House needs to know before we give this the green light.
I was surprised when the Minister in another place, in refuting the arguments that have been put forward again in your Lordships’ House today, said,
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“I simply do not think it is necessary”.—[
, Commons, Immigration Bill Committee, 27/10/15; col. 166.]
I wonder why he came to that conclusion, because clarity in legislation is always highly desirable. Otherwise, why would he have wanted to go away and reflect; why would these amendments have been moved in another place; and why would they be here again today? Clearly, something is necessary. Will the Minister, if he cannot put it right today, be agreeable to doing so on Report?
Day 2 of Committee
March 4th 2015 – David Alton with a group of domestic migrant – campaigning for changes in the law.
Domestic Migrant Labour
Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB): My Lords, I wish to support Amendment 133, moved by the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, and to say a word in support of my noble friend Lord Hylton’s Amendment 134B. In March last year, at the last gasp of the then Modern Slavery Bill, your Lordships voted down the amendment that my noble friend has referred to, which would of course have provided greater protection for domestic migrant labour in the way that the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, described. My noble friend Lord Hylton has of course persistently championed this cause, and this new legislation gives us an opportunity to rectify what is a long-standing injustice.
In March, those of us who divided the House pressed for the most basic of protections: first, the right to change employer but remain restricted to domestic work in one household; secondly, if in full-time work as a migrant domestic worker in a private household, the option to apply to renew the visa; and thirdly, in instances of slavery, a three-month visa to allow the workers to look for decent work. We argued that without these sorts of provisions, we would leave in place a system found repeatedly over the previous three years to facilitate exploitation, including trafficking of migrant domestic workers.
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One of the foremost charities working with these groups, Kalayaan, described how such workers have literally sacrificed themselves to the well-being of their wider families. They do not self-protect in the way that someone with more choices would expect. Many explain that they are prepared to put up with any amount of mistreatment if they can provide for their children and ensure that the same will not happen to them. Kalayaan reports that 65% of the 120 domestic workers on the new visa who they saw between 6 April 2012 and 6 April 2014 did not even have their own rooms but shared children’s rooms or slept on the floor of communal areas, while 53% worked more than 16 hours a day and 60% were paid less than £50 a week.
In 2009, the Home Affairs Select Committee, quoting Kalayaan, said in its inquiry into trafficking that the visa issue was,
“‘the single most important issue’ in preventing the forced labour and trafficking of such workers”.
I recognise that the wholly unacceptable exploitation of domestic workers will not be entirely abolished by the acceptance of these amendments, but it would certainly be an improvement on the current situation.
In reply to the debate last March, the Minister—the noble Lord, Lord Bates—urged Members of your Lordships’ House to resist our amendment and to await the outcome of the review of James Ewins, which the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, has mentioned. The Minister said:
“Most crucially, the amendment is defective because a serious and considered piece of work is currently going through its process under the widely respected James Ewins. Our argument is that that should be allowed to take its course”.—[Official Report, 25/3/15; col. 1448.]
In the review, which followed the debate, Mr Ewins takes as his fundamental question,
“whether the current arrangements for the overseas domestic workers visa are sufficient to protect overseas domestic workers from abuse of their fundamental rights while they are working in the UK, which includes protecting them from abuse that amounts to modern slavery and human trafficking”.
We now have the result of that review, and Mr Ewins has recommended removing the visa tie:
“On the balance of the evidence currently available, this review finds that the existence of a tie to a specific employer and the absence of a universal right to change employer and apply for extensions of the visa are incompatible with the reasonable protection of overseas domestic workers while in the UK”.
He goes on to say:
“The review recommends that all overseas domestic workers be granted the right to change employer … and apply for annual extensions, provided they are in work as domestic workers in a private home”.
Who are the kind of people we are talking about? The Anti Trafficking and Labour Exploitation Unit provides a number of examples, of which I will give only one, relating to the plight of an African national caught up in the cat’s-cradle of domestic labour exploitation. She entered the UK as a domestic worker under the rules in place before April 2012. Her visa has been extended a number of times and she has continued domestic work. She worked for an employer for over three years and was mistreated: she was paid less than promised, shouted at and rarely allowed to leave the house, and her passport was taken by her
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employers on arrival—the key point. She of course felt very scared. She managed to gain their agreement to a short holiday after the three years, and when she got her passport back, she changed employers. She was advised about the protection available under the national referral mechanism but has been reluctant to pursue this as she fears she will be sent home to her country of origin by the Home Office. The study shows that a common form of control is retention of documents, psychological abuse and restriction of movement.
However, domestic workers who are allowed to change employer can solve problems that arise with one employer by changing employment and moving away from the problem. The case also shows that the NRM will not be the right fit for everyone, even with advice. Individuals can be frightened of being perceived to cause trouble for others and of repercussions from that.
Although Amendment 133 has provided this welcome opportunity to debate what provision should be made for overseas domestic workers, this can all be achieved simply by amendments to the Immigration Rules, so the full range of options is open to the Government. Either way, Mr Ewins’s recommendations, which he identifies as the minimum necessary to protect overseas workers, should be implemented without delay as an essential first step towards comprehensive protection.
As my noble friend Lord Hylton said, he would go slightly further in Amendment 134B. Maybe these two ideas, which are not in conflict, could be taken together before Report. What is abundantly clear is that the Government must get on with resolving this issue and providing reasonable and basic protection to those caught up in a tangle of exploitation and coercion.
Lord Alton of Liverpool: First, I shall clarify the figure that the noble Lord asked about. It is the figure quoted in the Kalayaan report of people that it had interviewed over the course of two years—120 people. The case that I have advanced today is based not entirely on what I regard as the excellent report of James Ewins. I wonder whether the noble Lord has had a chance to read the recommendation of the Joint Committee on the draft Modern Slavery Bill, which looked at this issue and concluded:
“In the case of the domestic worker’s visa, policy changes have unintentionally strengthened the hand of the slave master against the victim of slavery. The moral case for revisiting this issue is urgent and overwhelming”.
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It recommended that the Home Office reverse the changes to the overseas domestic workers visa. That was also a view that the Joint Committee on Human Rights took; in 2014, it said:
“We regard the removal of the right of an Overseas Domestic Worker to change employer as a backward step”,
and urged its reversal. So this is not just Mr Ewins—there is a substantial amount of evidence from highly regarded committees of this House and Joint Committees, which have looked at this matter in detail and come to the same conclusions as Mr Ewins.
The Right (and Duty) Of Asylum Seekers To Work
Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, in supporting the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, and supported by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, may I first put in a request to the Minister, almost in parenthesis, for when he comes to reply? This relates to an issue that was raised on day one, which is the role of people who are involved in voluntary work and what the legal position is, because contradictory positions were expressed on day one. I was looking at some of the briefing material for today’s debate, particularly about a project called the Brushstrokes Community project in Smethwick in Birmingham, which has been providing services for refugees and asylum seekers for over 15 years. Brushstrokes described one asylum seeker who volunteered with the project for over a year before she received refugee status, and who continues to volunteer to this day. Last year she won an award as volunteer of the year in Sandwell. Another woman volunteered as a teaching assistant for around six months while awaiting the outcome of her application. She has now been granted refugee status and is on the path to fulfilling her aspiration of becoming a teacher in the United Kingdom. What is the legal situation of people who work in a voluntary capacity?
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There are five substantial reasons why the arguments expressed so well by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, should commend themselves to your Lordships’ House. First, these amendments would provide asylum seekers with a route out of poverty. More than 3,600 asylum seekers have currently been waiting more than six months for an initial decision on their case, surviving on just £5 a day.
Secondly, it reduces the burden on the taxpayer, as asylum seekers who are able to work will not need to be supported for extended periods and will instead be able to contribute to the economy through increased tax revenues and consumer spending. It also safeguards their health and prevents them having to resort to irregular work in what some describe as the black economy.
Thirdly, it avoids the negative consequences of prolonged economic exclusion and forced inactivity. During my 18 years as a Member of another place representing an inner-city neighbourhood in Liverpool I often saw that kind of grinding poverty first hand: the detrimental impact on mental health and self-esteem, the break-up of marriages and families—many Members of your Lordships’ House are very familiar with these kinds of arguments. The dignity that work gives should never be underestimated.
Fourthly, what is the experience elsewhere in other European Union countries? With the exception of the United Kingdom, Denmark and Ireland, other European countries allow asylum seekers to work after nine months and 11 of them grant permission to work after six months or less if a decision has not been made on their asylum application. That has not been a bad experience—it works very well and has not been a pull factor, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, was right to remind us.
Fifthly, for those asylum seekers who are eventually given permission to stay, avoiding an extended period outside the labour market is key to ensuring their long-term integration into UK society and encouraging them to be self-sufficient. Therefore, alleviating destitution amongst asylum seekers is a prerequisite if we believe in the upholding of a person’s human dignity. The right to work is fundamental to this and it also relives the state of having to provide financial support.
In 2014, the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, set out the defence of the Government’s policy when he said that asylum seekers are,
“provided with support and accommodation while we determine whether they need our protection and until they have exhausted the right of appeal”.—[
, 17/3/14; col. 30.]
However, the reality is that £5 a day to meet their essential living needs of food, clothing, toiletries and transport and to pursue their asylum application—housing and utility bills are paid for separately for those who need it—is wholly inadequate. Which of us could survive on that kind of paltry sum? Therefore the asylum seeker loses, but so does the state. We must give asylum seekers a route out of poverty and help them not to become part of a dependency culture.
At the end of June 2015, more than 3,500 asylum seekers had been waiting more than six months for an initial decision. The Minister arranged an all-Peers meeting, which I was able to attend, and Mr James
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Brokenshire, the Minister, was also there. He of course said that the Government’s aim is to ensure that there are no people waiting for longer than six months. Can the Minister tell us just how many people are waiting for longer than six months and how long it will be before that objective is met?
I am told that an asylum seeker spends an average of around 18 months on Section 95 support. Asylum seekers who have to survive solely on this level of support for extended periods of time will suffer a negative impact on their mental and physical health.
While a Member of the Commons, Sarah Teather chaired a cross-party parliamentary inquiry into asylum support for children and young people. In January 2013 it found that,
“asylum seeking parents are prevented from working, leaving families dependent on state support. This means that parents are left powerless and lose their skills”—
a point to which the noble Baroness alluded—
“while children are left without positive role models. The government’s own research has highlighted that this can lead to high levels of unemployment and underemployment once a family gains refugee status”.
That inquiry took evidence from over 200 individuals and organisations, including local authorities and safeguarding boards, and specifically recommended that asylum seeking parents and young adults should be given permission to work if their claim for asylum had not been concluded in six months—the point of these amendments.
Let us be clear: by keeping them out of work, many experienced and professional asylum seekers are deskilled, and the time spent not working hinders the opportunity to develop a career. It prejudices the chance to get references for future employment, and it denies people the chance to gain experience. Mr Brokenshire said that this provision would,
“blur the distinction between economic migration and asylum”.—[
Commons, Immigration Bill Committee, 10/11/15; col. 461.]
But this amendment addresses that concern, because permission to work would apply only when the delay was not due to action taken by the applicant. I therefore hope that this amendment commends itself to the House.
Full debate at:
SPEECH AT SECOND READING OF THE BILL
Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB): My Lords, I should like to contrast this Immigration Bill with the Bill which the Home Office laid before us last year on human trafficking and modern-day slavery. That was a well-crafted piece of legislation, which enjoyed bipartisan support and was significantly improved as it made its way through both our Houses of Parliament. Ministers were warmly congratulated on the way in which they engaged with complex issues and the organisations working in the field, but I wish that I could say the same for this Bill.
As the Minister knows, last week I chaired a briefing organised by the Refugee Children’s Consortium, which comprises some 40 agencies. No one could have left that meeting believing that organisations ranging from Barnardo’s and the Children’s Society to the Refugee Council, the Office of the Children’s Commissioner and the Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association were anything other than deeply concerned by the impact which the Bill will have on some already incredibly vulnerable people.
I would draw a further link with the showcase legislation on human trafficking and modern-day slavery. There is a widely held view, which I share, that the enforced destitution, which has been referred to in this debate and which this legislation sets out to achieve as a misguided way of disincentivising immigrants, will push desperate people into the clutches of traffickers and leave them open to the very exploitation which the 2014 Act set out to deter.
It is sometimes said that when you legislate in haste, you repent at leisure. I feel very uneasy about a Bill which has all the characteristics of hasty legislation: proposals not fully thought through or developed; inadequate evaluation; and drafting that has been struggling to keep up with the progress of the Bill. Another tell-tale sign of unseemly haste is the way in which extensions to Scotland, Northern Ireland and, in some cases, Wales are deferred to regulations—a point which the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, alluded to. How can this possibly be a good way of making law?
Nor have we properly evaluated the impact and effect of the Immigration Act 2014 before legislating further. I refer to issues such as the removal of rights of appeal, the creation of civil penalty schemes for landlords and the dispensing with time-honoured remedies and rights of redress. So when we get to Committee and Report, I hope that we will carefully scrutinise in particular Clauses 37 and 38, which are concerned with the destitution of refused asylum seekers.
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In a speech which I made in October in support of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, when she sought to annul Asylum Support Regulations, I quoted Asylum Link Merseyside, of which I am a patron and which is based in the heart of the inner-city areas that I represented for 25 years as a city councillor or as a Member of the House of Commons. As I said then, it said:
“This government policy of making asylum seekers destitute works on the assumption that by forcing people into extreme poverty they will choose to return to countries from which they have fled in fear of their lives”.
Its experience has been that 98% of failed asylum seekers choose to stay, surviving on handouts, sleeping on floors or sleeping rough. Over the past three years, it has come into contact, in its words,
“with over 400 destitute asylum seekers out of which only 8 have chosen to return home voluntarily”.—[
, 27/10/15; col. 1145.]
The Cardinal Hume Centre, a stone’s throw away from where we are gathered today, is one of the very few organisations that still provides free immigration advice from application right up to judicial review. The centre currently has a caseload of more than 300 open cases. From the centre’s front-line experience, it warns that using destitution simply does not work. Instead, it leaves people only more reliant on charities and more susceptible to abuse and exploitation.
Paradoxically, the Bill is likely to undermine immigration controls as refused asylum seekers will have little incentive to remain in contact with the authorities once support has been withdrawn. Statistics released by the Home Office last month revealed that a third of appeals are in fact accepted, so under Part 5 of the Bill there will be individuals and families with children who will eventually be granted asylum, but who by that point will have been starved and abandoned by the British state. How will that help with their integration into society?
The current demonising and scapegoating of migrants should make us think about the society we want to be: do we value these people as sources of economic potential or as human beings? My late mother came to this country as an immigrant from the west of Ireland. Her first language was Irish, not English, and she and her siblings fled harrowing poverty after the deaths of both their parents. She met my demobbed father, who was a Desert Rat, and married. She was always grateful for the opportunity to earn a living, make a home and bring up her children. In my years as a teenage student in Liverpool, there were still advertisements for accommodation that bore the words, “Blacks and Irish need not apply”. I also saw how easily people and communities could be stigmatised and discriminated against. All this makes me especially wary of laws which indefinitely detain immigrants and seem to discriminate against them. I hope that, in Committee, we will correct this injustice, and I entirely agree with the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, about indefinite detention.
We should also enable people to have the right to work, perhaps modelled on the American green card system. How many of us could survive in accommodation, given on a no-choice basis, with just £5.28 each day to cover food, clothing, toiletries, travel, communications and all other necessities? This year, the British Red
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Cross says that it has supported more than 10,000 asylum seekers and their dependents in that kind of situation. This is not Syria; it is the UK in 2015, and yet 10,000 people were in receipt of aid from the Red Cross. That is not the hallmark of a compassionate or civilised society.
The Bill also affects family unity. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights insists:
“The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State”.
The situation in Calais was referred to earlier. There are currently an estimated 6,000 people living in the “jungle” refugee camp in Calais, and the majority of residents are refugees from countries and regions facing the kind of dangers of which we are all too sadly aware. Caritas Social Action Network recently visited the camp and spoke to young people fleeing terror groups. One young man, just 18, was left with little choice but to leave Iraq after his village was taken under Daesh control. Had he stayed, he would have faced two options: join or be put to death. His brother had already claimed asylum in the UK, and was now living safely in Liverpool, yet the restrictive family reunification rules mean he cannot join him here. Having experienced such atrocities and loss, is it fair that he would not be able to be reunited with his family in England?
I have referred to the camp in Calais on a number of occasions during exchanges in your Lordships’ House. Rob Lawrie, a former soldier, tried to rescue a four year-old girl from the camp because he could not bear to see her remain in the horrific conditions—he now faces five years in prison for doing so. He concedes that what he did was wrong, but it is hard not to think of the Kindertransport or Sir Nicholas Winton and the rescue of countless children caught up in the horrors of the Third Reich, which bears easy comparison with the depredations of ISIS. Save the Children say that 10,000 minors and unaccompanied children fled to Europe last year, but 4,000 have disappeared. Into what? The Minister has undertaken to meet Save the Children and I hope he will give us a detailed response on the position of unaccompanied minors and children and what priority they will be given, how local authorities will be co-ordinated to deal with them, what safeguarding will be put in place, and how the amazing generosity and goodness of countless British people will be tapped through nationally organised fostering arrangements.
Finally, as currently drafted, the Bill fails to address the abuse and exploitation that migrant domestic workers face as a consequence of the tied visa system, an issue which I spoke on at each stage of the Modern Slavery Bill, and on which my noble friend Lord Hylton and I divided your Lordships’ house. I echo his remarks from earlier. In response to our debates, the Government asked the barrister James Ewins to carry out a review of the overseas domestic worker visa. Published last week, it covered the right to change employer, extension to two and a half years for such workers, information interviews and refusal of settlement. Mr Ewins says:
“On the balance of the evidence currently available, this review finds that the existence of a tie to a specific employer and the absence of a universal right to change employer and apply for extensions of the visa are incompatible with the reasonable protection of overseas domestic workers while in the UK”.
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The tied visa system has increased the exploitation and abuse of domestic workers. Reform to the rules is desperately needed and it is vital that we do not miss this opportunity, once again, to rectify this injustice. The report quotes the Minister himself as saying:
“Abuse of domestic workers, whether UK or EEA nationals, those on an [overseas domestic workers] or other visa, or those who have entered the UK illegally, is an abhorrent crime and will not be tolerated here in Britain”.
Now is our chance to give legislative protection to this group of workers and I look forward to hearing from the Minister what the Government propose to do.
————————————————————————–Question on Eritrean Refugees
Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB): My Lords, will the Minister confirm that the June 2015 report of the UN commission of inquiry said that probable crimes against humanity are being committed in Eritrea? That is why there has been such a haemorrhaging of the population, with 10% of the people—some 350,000—having fled thus far. If we do not come to terms with the root causes, will not those massive numbers of migrants continue
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to rise? What are we doing to pursue the recommendations in that report? Furthermore, does the Minister not recognise that when those migrants leave Eritrea, the story is not over, as the beheadings in Libya by ISIS only go to prove?
Lord Bates: That is absolutely right. It was a horrific report and it is not something on which the British Government are standing idly by. It is an issue on which we have engaged with the Eritrean Government through our embassy in Asmara. There was a meeting between the Foreign Minister and James Brokenshire at the margins of the EU and African Union conference in Rome in November, and that was followed up by a visit by Foreign Office and Home Office officials to assess the situation there. We continue to put great pressure on the Eritrean Government to live up to the commitments that they have made. It is only by tackling the cause of the problem, whether in Eritrea or Syria, that we can hope to stem the flow that results in the consequences that the noble Lord has highlighted.
Immigration Bill: Day 3
Committee (3rd Day) (Continued)
Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, during the excellent remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, in introducing his amendments and talking about these clauses, he referred to Stephen Shaw’s report and I want to ask the Minister some questions about that. He will know that the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Migration produced a pretty damning report on immigration detention, which led to the former Prisons and Probation Ombudsman, Stephen Shaw, being asked to investigate the treatment of vulnerable persons in detention. His report was published on Thursday 14 January, so another place had no opportunity to discuss that when it was considering the Bill, but we have a chance now to ask the Minister some questions about it in the context of these clauses.
Has the Minister had a chance to read the report in detail? It criticises the conduct of searches in immigration detention centres and it gives cause for further scrutiny of these provisions. The Minister himself, in his remarks on the previous set of amendments, said that things such as strip-searching would not be permitted, but I was concerned to read a number of accounts in Stephen
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Shaw’s report that involved male detention staff in searches of women, although not with the removal of clothes, and of women’s rooms in Yarl’s Wood. I am particularly interested in the situation there, as, thanks to the Minister, my noble friend Lord Hylton and I have been able to arrange a visit to Yarl’s Wood on Wednesday morning. I am glad that we will have the opportunity to put some of these questions directly to the staff who run that facility.
Mr Shaw says in his remarks:
“It is of the greatest importance that the proportion of female staff at Yarl’s Wood is increased … In the meantime, Serco should only conduct searches of women and of women’s rooms in the presence of men in the most extreme and pressing circumstances, and there should be monitoring and reporting (to Home Office Detention Operations) of these cases”.
In recommendation 35 of the report, he states:
“I recommend that the service provider at Yarl’s Wood should only conduct searches of women and of women’s rooms in the presence of men in the most extreme and pressing circumstances, and that there should be monitoring and reporting of these cases”.
During that review, Stephen Shaw identified evidence that the Home Office policy of not searching detainees, especially women, in the view of other people, is not always followed. I was struck by some examples that he gave. He said that:
“As far as the practices at Heathrow, Lunar house and Eaton House are concerned, the evidence of this review is that the Home Office’s policy that detainees (especially women) should not be searched in view of other people is not always followed”.
For instance, talking about Heathrow Terminal 3, Mr Shaw says, at paragraph 3.175:
“A female detainee was searched in front of several people”
At paragraph 3.227, talking about Lunar House, he says:
“Detainees were searched in an area where they could be seen by others in the main holding room”.
At Eaton House, at paragraph 3.240, he says:
“A female detainee was searched in the holding room by the Tascor escort who had arrived to take her to Colnbrook. This was in front of a male detainee and a male member of staff”.
Clearly, given the vulnerable position of detainees, particularly women, who are held as immigration detainees, and the lack of compliance by detention custody staff with existing policies on searching detainees, it would be highly inappropriate to extend those powers of search to include searches for the purpose of identifying nationality documents, particularly where they are so broadly defined in the way that the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, has already described to the Committee. When he comes to reply, I would be grateful if the Minister could tell us how the Government intend to respond to Stephen Shaw’s observations and recommendations.
Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, I intervene briefly to support the point that the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, and previously the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, have made about the importance of the language we use. When the Minister comes to consider this issue again between now and Report, I wonder whether he will look at the nomenclature that we use here and whether “immigration bail”, with its connotations of criminality, really is the right language for us to use at all. In particular, people seeking asylum are not criminals when one considers that they will include refugees, children, survivors of torture and trafficked people. It is quite wrong to imply that they are necessarily people who are therefore trying to break our laws.
I hope that the Minister will also return specifically to the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, about our duties under international law, especially Article 31 of the 1951 refugee convention, which expressly protects those who claim asylum from being treated as criminals. The UNHCR and other international guidance recognises that the detention of persons seeking asylum must always be the exception, so let us at least start from the basis that those seeking asylum will be among people who are genuine. They will be trying to escape from the most appalling situations
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in their own countries and are not criminals. We therefore must have some regard for their well-being and status.
I would like to raise one other brief issue in relation to Schedule 7, which is not covered by these amendments but on which I hope that the Minister will be able to provide some clarification. It appears that the introduction of a restriction on studies as a condition either of temporary admission or bail for those subject to immigration control is a new provision. I would be grateful if the Minister would spell that out. No reason for the restriction is given in the Explanatory Notes to the Bill, so I wonder whether we could take this opportunity in Committee to find out what that reason is. Breach of a condition of immigration bail is, as we have just discovered in these exchanges, a criminal offence and therefore has serious consequences. Those lawfully present and in touch with the authorities should not be restricted from undertaking studies. All those subject to immigration control will be on immigration bail, not just persons released from detention. The condition could potentially be applied to children and young people, preventing them accessing further education and even attending their school. I am sure that that is not what the Government had in mind but I hope they will clarify what the consequences of this provision might be.
Lord Keen of Elie:
The noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, made a point with regard to restrictions on studies and the provisions in Schedule 7. This existing power is used only in the context of a terrorism-related issue which is subject to SIAC provisions. I would be content to write and elaborate on that in due course. I had not anticipated that the point would be raised, but I emphasise that this is an existing power used only in the most exceptional circumstances pertaining to terrorism. If the noble Lord wishes me to write further on that, I would be glad to do so.
Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for giving that clarification. It would be a convenience and a help to the House and to those who have made representations about this if further clarity could be given. If the power is to be used only in circumstances relating to terrorism, that seems a reasonable and justifiable provision.
Lord Keen of Elie: I am most obliged to the noble Lord and I undertake to write on that point.
Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, given that my noble friend (Lord Green of Deddington) has placed a great deal of reliance on public opinion and how he thinks public policy should
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be shaped, and given that he has cited figures from 2014, has he had a chance to reflect on the figures produced by the House of Commons Library about the cost of running detention centres in the way we are at the moment?
The cost was £164 million in 2014, while the cost of keeping one person in a detention centre is £36,000 a year. In addition, £15 million was paid out in compensation for illegal and unlawful detention. Surely he would agree with those of us who have been putting an alternative point of view that it is an issue which needs to be tackled at a fundamental level.
Lord Green of Deddington: Yes, I certainly agree that detention is a very expensive business in all circumstances; that is true. The people I would be most concerned about are those who plan to come here as economic migrants and who would have no right of asylum. They are the people who need to be deterred. It is not so much public opinion; it is having an asylum system which is seen to be effective. By all means, people who have been tortured need to be dealt with, but it would surprise me if many were actually in detention. They would not be there if their cases had not been heard and refused by the immigration courts.
Lord Keen of Elie: One of the points that noble Lord referred to, and which was referred to also by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, was the question of set time limits, and the limits that apply in the context of the EU returns directive. It is important to have a full understanding of the EU returns directive. It sets a limit on immigration detention of six months and is extendable to 18 months. Some EU countries have shorter limits—France, for example—but Germany allows for the full 18 months’ extension under the directive. So one has to have regard to the full terms of the EU directive.
The United Kingdom has not signed up to the EU returns directive; we prefer to maintain control of our own borders. There are other issues to be considered as well. The very legal system within each of these European countries is distinct, so for example, in some
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there is no concept of judicial review of executive action, as we understand it, and therefore no scope for review of executive action in the context of immigration control and the application of immigration policy. So one has to be a little careful when seeking to rely on comparative law and comparative data.
We are, of course, working towards the voluntary return of illegal migrants to this country, as well as implementing various schemes to deal with those who refuse to return. I notice that during the last two years there have been more than 50,000 voluntary returns by migrants to this country. Again, that is simply to put the matter in context.
Lord Keen of Elie: The clearest answer I can give is that it is a matter for consideration at present by Ministers. They will consider it because they have already said that. They noted the recommendations in Stephen Shaw’s report. They have not yet determined in a black and white way that they will implement all 64 recommendations and no one would expect them to have done so in this timescale, but they will address them.
Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Keen, has probably exhausted that line of argument for the moment. However, he was also asked during the debate not whether there are few or many but how many pregnant women are in detention centres at present, what their length of stay has been and whether any babies have been born there. If he cannot give those figures this evening, rather than simply saying “very few”, which was the phrase he used a few minutes ago, perhaps he will agree to write to noble Lords and let us know exactly what the numbers are.
Lord Keen of Elie: I am perfectly happy to write to noble Lords to give the figures for the number of pregnant women at present in detention and perhaps over a period of six months to cover both before and after Stephen Shaw’s report, so that there are some meaningful figures they can work from. I cannot give exact figures. That may not surprise your Lordships. I am advised that there are very few pregnant women in the estate. However, more precise figures will be given.
The adults at risk policy will take a more holistic and dynamic approach to the assessment of vulnerability, based on the best available evidence. That is what Stephen Shaw has identified as the most ambitious approach to ensuring that adults at risk are safeguarded. However, the approach in the proposed new clause
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would not be workable in practice. It does not take into account the realities of how individuals are discovered. For example, how would we handle cases at the border who can be returned on the next flight? Following this amendment, an individual could not be lawfully detained without an order of the tribunal. That would be an administrative challenge to obtain and would require significant extra resources. The same would be true of an individual encountered jumping off the back of a lorry. And what would happen if someone was already detained and raised these issues? Would they be unlawfully detained until an order of the tribunal was given? It is simply not workable in practice.
Lord Alton of Liverpool: If the noble Baroness will allow me, one thing that does not seem to have been referred to in the course of our debates is the exponential increase in the number of people detained. I think that there was an 11% increase last year, with around 31,000 people being detained in this country. Does that not underline the importance of what she is saying about looking for alternatives to this? I gave the figures earlier: the cost to the public purse is around £36,000 per person detained. Millions of pounds are being spent on something that does not give great credit to our nation. Surely we should look for an alternative to this. We know that such alternatives exist elsewhere, which is where Stephen Shaw seems to be pointing us. Is that not what we should be doing between now and Report?
Baroness Hamwee: Indeed, and the sentence before the one which I quoted referred to a system,
“both … more protective of the welfare of vulnerable people and”,
“better value for the taxpayer”.
Immigration Bill: Day 4.
Committee (4th Day)
Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB): My Lords, I am a signatory to Amendment 227, which has been so comprehensively and well introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, this afternoon. The noble Lord, Lord Bates, will recall that, prior to Second Reading, I chaired a meeting in your Lordships’ House organised by the Refugee Children’s Consortium and the Children’s Society. Some of the issues raised by the noble Lord today were raised then, and I know that they have been on the mind of the Minister.
The position of children was brought home to me by a report that appeared in the Daily Telegraph on Monday last, reiterated in the Observer on Sunday, which stated:
“At least 10,000 unaccompanied child refugees have disappeared in Europe, the EU’s criminal intelligence agency has said, as it warned many could be in the hands of traffickers.
Brian Donald, Europol’s chief of staff, said the children had vanished after arriving in Europe and registering with state authorities”.
He went on to say:
“It’s not unreasonable to say that we’re looking at 10,000-plus children”.
We should take the rights of children, which are at the heart of the amendment, very seriously within our own jurisdiction, as well as recognising that children are suffering outside our jurisdiction as a result of this massive crisis of migration.
The seriousness of this question and of out-of-country appeals was also brought home to me this morning when, with my noble friend Lord Hylton and as a result of the kindness of the noble Lord, Lord Bates, and Mr James Brokenshire in organising it for us, we visited Yarl’s Wood detention centre. I was deeply impressed by a lot of what we saw there. We were able to talk at random to people at Yarl’s Wood. I spoke to a lady who is 33 years of age. She has lived in this
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country for 26 years. She has three children, aged 17, 14 and 12. She was born in Somalia. Because she has some minor convictions, including things such as shoplifting in the past, this lady will be deported from this country to Mogadishu in Somalia. “Needless to say”, she said, “Every night, I sleep with my heart pounding”. I do not know, but will this woman have to launch an appeal from Mogadishu? Is this the sort of thing that could arise as a consequence of this legislation?
That is why the amendment that the noble Lord moved is so important. I have three very brief reasons why I support it. First, thousands of children, including British citizens, will be at risk of being separated from their parents or being removed from the UK before any judicial scrutiny of the Home Office’s decision and without adequate consideration of the best interests of the child. Secondly, given the consequences of inappropriate certification and the cost and obstacles to challenging certification—the only means of doing so being by judicial review—surely it is wrong to extend the existing provisions. Thirdly, Clause 34 could see more cases involving unaccompanied children or young people aged over 18 who claimed asylum alone as children, or who arrived as children and have lived in the UK for most of their lives, being certified for an out-of-country appeal and being removed to their countries of origin without a sufficient assessment of their best interests being undertaken.
The Children’s Society tells me that the provisions risk children being deprived of their parents or forced to leave the country that they grew up in before any judicial scrutiny of the Home Office’s decision and without adequate consideration of the best interests of the child. It says that this provision could see more cases involving unaccompanied children or young people aged over 18 who claimed asylum alone as children and/or who have lived here for many years and have built their lives in the UK being certified for an out-of-country appeal.
The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, was right to remind us of the implications, following the changes made under the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act, of the consequences of removing legal aid. I was struck by a report, again by the Children’s Society, that estimates that 2,490 children would be out of scope in a post-LASPO context. Clearly, without legal aid these children, including those in care, are unable to resolve their immigration issues, often resulting in a crisis for the child as they turn 18.
I have only one other point, which is a question to the Minister. Given the difficulties that children and families face making immigration applications because there is no legal aid for immigration claims, how will the Home Office be sure that it has all the information it needs to make a comprehensive, best-interests assessment before allowing an appeal only from outside of the United Kingdom? Before we agree the provisions of the clause or reject the amendment, we need an answer to that question.
Lord Alton of Liverpool: As the noble and learned Lord says, it would be invidious to build a whole argument on just one case, but I must add two points to what he has just said. First, the lady told me that she had several convictions and custodial sentences but none had been for longer than three months, which does not suggest that these were hugely serious offences. Secondly, this is about returning someone to Mogadishu in Somalia, with all the problems that country faces at present. Every day one hears reports of bombings and last week there were reports of bazookas being used on the streets. This is someone who has lived in the United Kingdom for 26 years and has had three children in this country in that time. That is why the case is relevant to this afternoon’s debate about the undesirability of breaking up family life in those circumstances.
Lord Keen of Elie: I quite understand the noble Lord’s point. That is why the Secretary of State retains discretion over certification—this is not an absolute. In circumstances where there is a risk of serious irreversible harm because of conditions in a particular country or part of a country, there will not be certification. In circumstances where that would amount to a breach of an individual’s human rights, there will not be certification. There is that safety net. It may not be as large as some noble Lords would wish but it is there for these very cases. It is not dissimilar from the instance cited by the right reverend Prelate of a child being exposed to the very real risk of sexual violence or mutilation. Again, this is why the provisions of Clause 34 are not absolute and compel the Home Secretary to take a reasoned decision that has regard to a primary issue being the interests of the child.
A further point was raised by the noble Lord about whether and when the Secretary of State for the Home Department could be sure that she had all the information. Of course, there can be no absolutes. However, in a situation involving children, individuals—parents and
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carers—readily come forward to explain that there are children. Where the existence of children is identified, that matter is explored, as it is bound to be, pursuant to Section 55 of the Act I cited earlier.
My experience of being involved in the Kiarie and Byndloss cases before the Court of Appeal involved my examining the decision letters issued by the Home Office. These are not glib, one-paragraph notices, but very detailed and considered letters that were sent out, giving not only a decision but a reasoned foundation for that decision. I cannot—and would never dare to—assert that they are invariably right in every respect, or that they are exhaustive in every way. On the face of it, however, it is the practice, subject to the guidance given, to send out truly reasoned decision letters in these circumstances, with particular reference to the interests of the child or children who may be affected.
Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, has reminded us that this clause is about forced destitution. Is it right that in a country such as this, which is one of the wealthiest in the world and upholds humane and civilised standards of decency, we should leave people without adequate resources believing that it is a way to somehow force them to leave the country? At Second Reading, I rehearsed
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some of the arguments. I mentioned Asylum Link Merseyside, of which I am a patron, and the work it has done that demonstrates that that simply does not work, because when parents, rightly or wrongly, think that their children’s lives will be at risk if they return home, they will generally consider that becoming destitute in the United Kingdom is the better option available to them. That is why the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, is right to ask whether we wish this clause to remain part of the Bill and to argue why it should not stand part.
Asylum Link Merseyside works with asylum seekers, but as my noble friend Lord Sandwich and others have reminded the Committee, the Home Office commissioned its own report into these things—I think that the Home Office study covered a cohort of about 116 families. It found that the rate of absconding was 39% for those in the Section 9 pilot but only 21% in the comparable control group who remained supported. Only one family in the pilot was successfully removed, compared to nine successful removals in the control group, and,
“there was no significant increase in the number of voluntary returns … of unsuccessful asylum seeking families”.
That is why the Home Office concluded that Section 9 should not be used on a blanket basis. Removing Clause 37 would remove something that we know does not work, that is likely to be more costly, that is an inefficient support system and that will clearly, as others have said, put the welfare of children at risk.
The Bill will establish a highly bureaucratic system which will be burdensome to administer. Local authorities will remain the body to which destitute refused asylum seekers who have fallen through the safety net turn for support. They will have to conduct eligibility tests and assessments to see whether support is required in order to safeguard the welfare of a particular child. In these cash-strapped days, do we really believe that local authorities will be in a position to do that? The complexity of these new arrangements means that families with children are likely to fall through the gaps in the system and find themselves destitute, at least temporarily. The consequences of refused asylum seekers being left without support, even for short periods of time, is extremely serious as it causes illness and complicates existing health problems.
Some noble Lords, including the noble Baronesses, Lady Lister and Lady Hamwee, were able to attend a briefing a few weeks ago which was given by, among others, Still Human Still Here. I asked then for some illustrations of how this could work out in practice. I shall give two brief examples. Still Human Still Here mentioned a 2012 serious case review which involved an asylum seeker who developed a brain infection and could not look after her child. The boy starved to death and the mother died two days later. The family became destitute during the transition from asylum to mainstream support, leaving the family,
“dependent upon ad hoc payments by local agencies”.
The review expressed,
“concern about the adverse consequences on vulnerable children and the resulting additional pressure on local professional agencies”,
when support was cut off.
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In 2011 a serious case review involving child Z noted that the circumstances of the child’s mother, a refused asylum seeker facing removal with a life-threatening illness and caring for a young child with few support networks,
“would challenge any individual’s coping strategies”.
It stressed that the,
“need for high levels of support for someone with such vulnerabilities was clear”,
and the absence of this support was a major factor leading to the woman’s death and her child needing to be looked after.
Both these cases highlight the consequences of leaving vulnerable families without support, and I therefore have some questions for the Minister. The Government’s proposals leave the detail of the new support provisions, including the level of support, to regulations. First, will the Government provide an assurance that the level and type of support provided under Section 95A or new paragraphs 10A and 10B of Schedule 3 to the 2002 Act will meet the essential living needs of asylum seekers and that the housing provided will be appropriate for vulnerable children and their families?
Secondly, the Government have stated that it will not be possible to apply for Section 95A support after the prescribed grace period, which is 21 days for single adults and 90 days for families with children. Will the Government provide an assurance that the regulations which permit applications outside the grace period will include changes of circumstance, such as when asylum seekers who were previously supported by friends or family become destitute or when asylum seekers encounter a barrier to return after the grace period is over?
Thirdly, will the Government consider amending language which prevents local authorities providing support under Section 17 of the Children Act 1989 where,
“there are reasonable grounds for believing that support will be provided”,
as it is likely to leave families destitute for considerable periods of time while responsibility is determined?
Fourthly, and penultimately, while local authorities will be able to provide accommodation and subsistence support when they are satisfied that it is needed to safeguard and promote the welfare of a child, regulations will be laid specifying factors which the local authority must or must not take into account in making this decision. What factors do the Government intend to specify must or must not be taken into account?
Lastly, will the Government provide an assurance that the best interests of the child, which were referred to by the Minister’s noble and learned friend in earlier exchanges, shall be a primary consideration in the operation of any actions concerning children in the Bill —a point that I think will be reflected on in response to what the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, said earlier—and that the new mechanisms of support set up in the Bill will ensure that every child has a right to,
“a standard of living adequate for the child’s physical, mental, spiritual, moral and social development”?
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Those words are required by the Convention on the Rights of the Child. I hope the Government will consider bringing forward their own amendment at least to put that in the Bill.
I realise that the Minister may not be able to answer those five questions now, although I hope the Box will be able to provide him with some response. However, at least between now and Report, I hope that he will give reassurance to all noble Lords who have participated in today’s debate supporting the excellent points that the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, made in moving that this clause should not stand part of the Bill.
Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, the Minister will recall that I put five questions to him. Although he has in his ministerial reply touched tangentially on some of those points, I wonder whether he would be good enough to confirm that he will write to me with a response to the particular points I made.
Lord Bates: I apologise if I did not address those questions specifically head-on. Of course, I am blessed with having a team of officials behind me who capture the gaps in my response. We have a track record, I think, of following up in some detail to plug those gaps so that Members have the information that they need to scrutinise the legislation before the House.
Clause 37 agreed
Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, put the case eloquently and persuasively. She and I attended a briefing with the British Red Cross and she then tabled the amendment. I added my name as a signatory because it puts, as she said, a real and unnecessary injustice right. It is a basic safeguard against enforced destitution.
The Minister needs no convincing about the merits of the British Red Cross. He has not only raised significant sums for the organisation in a voluntary capacity but I know that he has huge admiration for the work that it does. Representatives told us in the briefing that we had with them that they had helped to reunite 300 refugee families last year in the UK. They also illustrated from their own experience that destitution in the asylum system is a worsening and deepening problem. They supported 9,000 refugees and asylum seekers who were destitute in 2015, compared with 7,700 in 2014, which is an increase of some 15%. That included people granted refugee status but not given enough time to transition to mainstream benefits in the way that the noble Baroness just described.
Nearly 44% of destitute refugees and asylum seekers supported by the Red Cross last year were from Eritrea, Iran, Sudan and Syria, all of which are among the world’s top refugee-producing countries. Although I agree with what the Minister said earlier about people seeking better lives from countries such as Albania—a point referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, in his intervention—we must never lose sight of some of the hell-holes from which people are coming.
When the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, and I were at Yarl’s Wood today, two men had just arrived off the back of lorries from Iran. Another had arrived from Mosul in Iraq. The situations they had come from were such that any noble Lord in the Chamber tonight would have attempted to escape from too. We have to be clear that these are not economic migrants or people who are just coming for a better life. Some of them have come from the most perilous and appalling situations.
If the Bill is left unaltered, it could plunge thousands more people in those kinds of situations into poverty, including families who are unable to leave the UK through no fault of their own, for example due to a lack of identification documents to provide their nationality or because they have no viable or secure place to return to.
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Research conducted by the Red Cross in South Yorkshire has found that, among asylum seekers with no recourse to public funds, two-thirds experience repeated hunger on a regular basis, with a quarter experiencing it every day. Over 60% had no fixed accommodation and were therefore reliant on informal networks, relatives, friends or other acquaintances for a place even to sleep at night. Over half reported worsening health over the past year.
In the previous group of amendments, I made a number of points about enforced hardship and the calamitous consequences of that on individuals as well as on society. I do not need to repeat all of those. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, I, too, have seen case studies from the Red Cross. She cited the particular example of Hagos, a 19 year-old, who spent 50 days in destitution. There were three other case studies I looked at. I will not go into the details other than to cite the numbers of days of destitution. One was a 27 year-old from Sudan who had been destitute for 38 days. In the third study, another young man from Sudan had been 19 days in destitution. In the fourth study, a teenager of 19 years of age from Ethiopia spent 21 days in destitution.
All of us with children or grandchildren can imagine our own youngsters in that kind of situation. We would not want it for them and we should not want it for these young people. I know that the Minister, in his heart, would not want it either. This is a just and reasonable amendment, and I hope that the Minister will take seriously the request made by the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, in asking for continued discussions around this question between now and Report.
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Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, as the Minister said in his reply to the previous group of amendments, we will now have our attention focused on a whole group on the plight of children primarily, and how this legislation will affect them. It is slightly mind-boggling to find your amendment grouped with 26 government amendments, let alone 10 other amendments, and I will leave others to deal with those.
Earlier, I referred to a report that appeared in the Daily Telegraph on Monday and had its origins in a story in the Observer newspaper on Sunday. I should like to return to that for a moment. The report states:
“Brian Donald, Europol’s chief of staff, said …‘It’s not unreasonable to say that we’re looking at 10,000-plus children’” ,
who are unaccompanied and who had disappeared in Europe. He continued:
“‘Not all of them will be criminally exploited; some might have been passed on to family members. We just don’t know where they are, what they’re doing or whom they are with’”.
The report continued:
“Of more than a million migrants and refugees who arrived in Europe last year, Europol estimates that 27 per cent of them are children … ‘Not all those are unaccompanied, but we also have evidence that a large proportion might be, Mr Donald told The Observer, adding that the 10,000 is likely to be a conservative estimate’”.
If thousands of child migrants have vanished in Europe, it is clearly not an issue about which we can be complacent. As we did with the human trafficking and modern-day slavery legislation, we must provide flagship legislation which other nations can emulate. Our practice here must be beyond reproach and we certainly must do all we can to safeguard children from falling into the hands of people who would exploit them.
One issue to which we have given relatively little attention in the course of our proceedings is that regarding children born in the UK or living in the UK from an early age without citizenship or leave to remain. Amendment 230D has a particular effect in relation to children in the care of a local authority. However there are many other children in similar circumstances in the UK, albeit not in care. The amendment would prevent in defined circumstances the application of Schedule 9 which, in various respects, removes obligations on local authorities to provide leaving care support to children without either British citizenship or leave to remain in the UK, including in relation to accessing higher education and other education and training. The circumstances in which it would prevent the effect of Schedule 9 is where the local authority has failed to support the child in its care to register as a British citizen, or obtain the leave to remain to which the child is or was entitled. Why should a local authority benefit effectively from reduced obligations in circumstances which have come about only because of the authority’s failure to adequately assist the child?
The project for the registration of children as British citizens—PRCBC, which I shall simply refer to, if I may, as the project—is supported by Amnesty International UK which drew this issue to my attention, for which I am grateful. It says that among the young people who stand to lose leaving care support under
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Clause 38 are young people who come to the UK at a very young age, and indeed some who were even born in this country.
I asked for examples so that I could illustrate the problem. They include people like Henry who was three years old when he was brought to the UK. He is now 15 and has been under the care of his local authority and in foster care since his grandmother’s death when he was seven. Henry is one of the luckier of these children. He has no leave to remain. However, he was referred to the project and it has been able to assist him in connection with his entitlement to register as a British citizen.
There are an estimated 120,000 children in the UK subject to immigration control and without leave to remain, more than half of whom were born in this country. Many of them are entitled to British citizenship under various provisions of the British Nationality Act 1981. However, many of them do not know and there is nobody to tell them of their entitlement. Indeed, in many cases, nobody makes the effort to find out that the child does not have citizenship or leave to remain in the UK until he or she turns 18 and seeks access to university or employment.
Another example is a young man called James whom the project has been able to assist. He was born in the United Kingdom. He has been in care since the age of one. His social worker attended one of the project’s free training sessions and referred his case. He, too, has no lawful status in the UK but is entitled to register as a British citizen.
Arising from these cases in the illustrations I have given, I have some questions for the Minister. Has he any assessment of the number of children—children without status but who are either entitled to register as a British citizen or who may be able to apply for registration at the discretion of the Secretary of State—who will be affected by Clause 38? Can he confirm, as both the project and Amnesty point out, that these children will also be adversely affected by the rest of a generally hostile environment, including the provisions we have discussed today concerning the right to rent and unlawful working, and issues we have discussed on previous sitting days? How many children in local authority care will fall into these categories? What steps do local authorities take to establish the immigration status of children in their care and then keep that under review? Do they just disappear into the ether? What assistance does the Home Office provide them to ensure they understand the entitlements of these children?
Many of the children face difficulties accessing legal advice or paying the fee required for them to register their citizenship. I should be grateful if the Minister, when he replies, can confirm that there is no legal aid for this and that the fee is currently some £749, of which £526 is simply profit to the Home Office. I understand that it is intended for the fee to go up to £936—a rise of 25%. Is that correct?
Although the focus of the project is assisting children to access their entitlement to British citizenship, it also sees cases where a child may alternatively be eligible for leave to remain. These children are young people; they are not culpable for their lack of status. Indeed, in some instances that arises due to historical wrongs
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in our citizenship laws, which Governments have taken some important steps to address, for instance, concerning illegitimate children. I commend that, but given that local authorities are in many cases failing to identify a child’s lack of status in the UK, or failing to take effective action to address it, it is particularly galling that Clause 38 would effectively reward the local authority for its failure. A child who would have remained entitled to ongoing support from the local authority on leaving care, had the authority taken effective action to attain status for the child, will lose that entitlement because of the failure to act.
As Amnesty made clear in oral evidence to the Public Bill Committee in the other place, these children are among those who will suffer from the hostile environment being established, particularly as they approach and reach their majority. Surely that cannot be right. I hope that the Minister will tell us what steps the Government will take to ensure that that is not the result. Perhaps it is an example of the law of unintended consequences, but I hope that it is something that the noble Lord will take seriously and see whether it is something that we can rectify, if not today then between now and Report. I beg to move.
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Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, the Minister told us he received stern looks at the beginning of this group of amendments because of the time that they would take to consider. He has been his usual patient and courteous self in the way that he has addressed the points that have been raised, and 56 minutes on a total of 37 amendments, 26 of which were tabled by the Government, does not seem to be a wholly unreasonable time to take. Indeed, surely it is an example of this House doing its duty to scrutinise, line by line, clause by clause and schedule by schedule, a huge Bill that raises important issues which have been touched on by all noble Lords who have contributed to this debate this evening, which has been passionate and well informed. We have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich, my noble friend Lord Hylton, the noble Lord, Lord Judd, the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and my noble friend Lord Listowel.
It was the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, who reminded us of the questions put by the Children’s Commissioner. The commissioner is, after all, not a non-governmental organisation or a charity: his remit is to promote and protect children’s rights. The four questions to which the noble Baroness referred still need to be answered. She talked about the difference between “may” and “must”. This is a case of “must”: those questions must be answered.
The noble Baroness, Lady Lister, reminded us that turning 18 does not absolve us of our responsibilities. I was thinking of a friend of mine who asked me which were the most challenging years in bringing up my children. I said that a friend had told me that the first 30 years had been the worst, and I suspect that that is true of the experience of many of your Lordships. The children and young adults we are talking about here have no one to fend for them. They are often unaccompanied. They do not have all the resources of the state. They cannot just be left to their own devices. The noble Lord, Lord Judd, was right to remind us of the consequences of people without resources sleeping rough and being pushed into destitution, and how that can lead to mental illness or become a recruiting ground for people who draw them into all sorts of bad pursuits.
As many have said, my noble friend Lord Listowel has been a tireless advocate on behalf of young people. He has huge first-hand experience, and I know that the Minister will take seriously all the points that he made this evening. I welcome what the Minister said about the continuing discussions that will take place outside your Lordships’ House after this evening. There has been some movement in the government amendments tonight—it would be churlish not to thank the Minister for that—but that young person who perhaps personifies the desire of all of us always to receive more, Oliver, may be an inspiration in those discussions. Many more things need to be done, and I hope that the Minister will ensure that, as he put it earlier, the sentiment will be followed by the detail. That is clearly what we need between now and Report. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 230D withdrawn.
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Moved by Lord Alton of Liverpool
234A: After Clause 38, insert the following new Clause—
“Conditions for grant of asylum: cases of genocide
(1) A person seeking asylum in the United Kingdom who belongs to a national, ethnical, racial or religious group which is,
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in the place from which that person originates, subject to the conditions detailed in Article II of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, shall be presumed to meet the conditions for asylum in the United Kingdom.
(2) The adjudication of whether the group to which the person seeking asylum belongs meets the description specified in subsection (1) shall be determined by a Justice of the Supreme Court after consideration of the available facts.
(3) Applicants for asylum in the United Kingdom from groups designated under this section may submit their applications and have them assessed at British missions overseas.”
Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB): My Lords, in moving the amendment, I thank those noble Lords, from all sides of your Lordships’ House, who encouraged me to table it, and especially the co-signatories, my noble friend Lady Cox, the noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson of Winterbourne, and the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth of Drumlean. The amendment provides a presumption that a person will be granted asylum when a judge of the Supreme Court has determined that a group to which that person belongs is, in the place from which that person originates, subject to genocide. The presumption will operate in the UK but, in addition, applicants would be able to apply at British consular posts overseas. Genocide is defined in Article 2 of the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide as follows:
“In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:
(a) Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group”.
Just one week ago, in Strasbourg, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe adopted a resolution condemning the actions of Daesh/ISIS in the Middle East as genocide. The resolution, “Foreign Fighters in Syria and Iraq”, states that ISIS,
“has perpetrated acts of genocide and other serious crimes punishable under international law”.
The resolution unequivocally states that the actions that ISIS has committed are genocide, and was passed by 117 votes for and just one against. While we have been considering Day 4 of the Committee stage of this Bill, the European Parliament has been debating and will, tomorrow, vote on a similar resolution to that of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, identifying the plight of minorities such as Yazidis and Christians as genocide. This is a view also shared by 75 Members of your Lordships’ House and another place, who wrote to the Prime Minister just before Christmas urging her Majesty’s Government to declare events in Syria and Iraq as a genocide. In that December letter to the Prime Minister, the signatories said:
“There is no doubt in our minds that the targeting of Christians and other religious minorities by Daesh falls within that definition”.
Signatories include the former chief of staff, the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Guthrie, and the former head of MI5, the noble Lord, Lord Evans. The letter urges
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the British Government to seek agreement at the United Nations that we should name things for what they are. The letter insisted:
“This is not simply a matter of semantics. There would be two main benefits from the acceptance by the UN that genocide is being perpetrated”.
The first is that those responsible would one day face a day of judicial reckoning, and the second is that it would require the 147 states who have signed the convention to step up to the plate and,
“face up to their duty to take the necessary action to ‘prevent and punish’ the perpetrators”.
There is now clear evidence that this genocide includes assassinations of church leaders, mass murders, torture, kidnapping for ransom, the sexual enslavement and systematic rape of Christian girls and women, forcible conversions, the destruction of churches, monasteries, cemeteries and Christian artefacts and theft of lands and wealth from Christian clergy and laity alike. The caliphate has made public statements taking credit for the mass murder of Christians and expressing its intent to eliminate these minority communities and other groups, such as homosexuals, from its territory.
The Government response thus far seeks to avoid the duty set out in the convention stating:
“It is a long-standing Government policy that any judgements on whether genocide has occurred are a matter for the international judicial system rather than governments or other non-judicial bodies”.
This is a frustrating and circular argument. Which international courts and judges should decide, on the basis of what process and in considering what evidence? What steps are the Government actually taking to ensure that those courts do indeed urgently consider the matter and reach a conclusion? On 16 December in Parliamentary Answer HL4327, the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay of St Johns said:
“We are not submitting any evidence of possible genocide against Yazidis and Christians to international courts, nor have we been asked to”.
As for referring this matter to the International Criminal court she told me:
“I understand that, as the matter stands, Fatou Bensouda, the chief prosecutor, has determined not to take these matters forward”.—[Official Report, 16/12/15; col. 2146.]
If no one is willing to name this for what it is or to take this forward then the genocide convention becomes nothing more than window dressing and is an insult to the intention of the original drafters and ratifiers as “never again” inevitably repeats itself over and over again.
Meanwhile, people are being ruthlessly targeted, and so is their culture and history. Last week, we learned that ISIS has obliterated Mosul’s ancient, stone-walled monastery of St Elijah, dating from the sixth century, where monks had etched “chi rho”, the first Greek letters of the word “Kristos”. This attempt to eradicate memory has been accompanied by the obliteration of those whose beliefs do not comply with theirs. Last year, 200 Assyrian Christians in the Khabour river valley were kidnapped and jihadi websites showed graphic executions of some of the group, warning that others would be executed if the ransoms remained unpaid. Last August, the ancient Saint Eliane monastery
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in central Syria, which was founded more than 1,500 years ago, was destroyed by ISIS and dozens of Syriac Christians were abducted. Last year, a UN report said that ISIS continues,
“to deliberately and wantonly loot and destroy places of religious and cultural significance … which ISIS considers as un-Islamic. Generally, these sites are looted before being destroyed”.
Along with the Yazidi community, Christians have been told to convert or die. Children have been seized, propagandised and indoctrinated with jihadist ideology. That UN report warns that the situation continues to deteriorate, saying:
“UNAMI/OHCHR continues to have grave concerns for the welfare and safety of those held in ISIL captivity”.
The United Nations report states that that ISIS is holding 3,500 slaves hostage, mainly women and children. It said that ISIS has committed acts that,
“amount to war crimes, crimes against humanity, and possibly genocide”,
against minority groups, and that ISIS’s “systematic and widespread violence”, including beheadings, shootings and burnings, was “staggering”. Mass graves honeycomb part of the region. In a recent Parliamentary Answer HL4065, the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, told me:
“We are aware of reports that mass graves have been discovered … at least one of which was allegedly booby trapped by Daesh”.
Murder is accompanied by other horrors. An estimated 5,000 young Yazidi women and girls have been abducted by ISIS, suffering horrific and prolonged sexual abuse. They were imprisoned for months on end, beaten, burnt and exposed to daily rape and torture. Horrifyingly, some of those victims were as young as nine. Sadly, some girls have taken their own lives in desperate attempts to escape the horrors of captivity.
A few weeks ago I chaired a meeting here that was attended by the Archbishop of Aleppo. We were told how, in a village outside Aleppo, ISIS cut the tops off the fingers of a 14 year-old boy because his Christian father refused to convert. They then crucified the boy and killed the father. At a meeting organised by the noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson, a former Yazidi MP, speaking here, said that she could not understand why the West had not declared these events a genocide and why we had remained silent. Hillary Clinton says that although she was reluctant to use the term “genocide” a few months ago to describe the IS atrocities, there is now “enough evidence” for her to use that word to denounce the murders of religious minorities by the jihadi group. Mrs Clinton said:
“What is happening is genocide, deliberately aimed at destroying not only the lives but wiping out the existence of Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East in territory controlled by ISIS”.
The amendment is designed to focus the debate, rouse our consciences and provide some practical help. I heard yesterday from Assyrian Christians who had been told that it may take up to six years to process their asylum applications. Many Christian refugees in Lebanon are not even registered with UNHCR, too fearful even to go into the camps. In the context of continuing threats to their security, impoverishment, lack of access to work or schooling and no hope of a home, these delays are undoubtedly contributing to
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the decision of many to undertake the hazardous journeys that we have been discussing during our proceedings, and undoubtedly many more will follow in their footsteps. Given that the Weidenfeld Fund, Mercury One and Operation Safe Havens are able to process applications and do the necessary security clearances—to a higher standard than UNHCR—in a matter of weeks, such delays are completely unacceptable. The late Lord Weidenfeld’s decision to create a special fund to assist Syrian Christians should inspire us all to do more. Although the noble Lord, Lord Bates, said in a Parliamentary Answer to me only yesterday:
“We recognise the plight faced by vulnerable women and girls in the region, and particularly Yazidi women who have escaped following enslavement by ISIS”,
and although the Government detail the significant sums of money that they provide for humanitarian relief, the reality is that Yazidis and Assyrian Christians have simply not been prioritised.
I urge the Government to collect the evidence—the names; the dates; the photographs of atrocities; the numbers killed, tortured, abducted or sold into sexual slavery; the accounts of forced conversions; the churches, shrines and manuscripts destroyed—and to trigger the process of bringing the perpetrators to justice and to name this for what it is. Words matter. History proves that once the word “genocide” is used to designate heinous and targeted crimes against sections of humanity, as in Yugoslavia or Cambodia, it is followed by swift international action to stop those atrocities. The Khmer Rouge prosecution continues and includes charges of genocide against the Cham and Vietnamese people, so there are precedents.
The amendment would ask a Justice of the Supreme Court to examine the evidence and make a determination. It would provide a process and duty to act. It would then ensure that victims of genocide were given priority in asylum applications. This is not about numbers, nor about those who threaten the security and ideals for which this country stands. Many suffer, but this is about those who have been singled out and our duty under the genocide convention to protect them. I commend the amendment to the Committee, and I beg to move.
Baroness Cox (CB): My Lords, I support the amendment, to which I am a signatory. Last week, my noble friend Lord Alton and I presided over a hearing here in Parliament, where we heard graphic accounts of genocide and crimes against humanity from Yazidis and Christians from Syria and Iraq. Their first- hand testimonies were accompanied by supporting statements from relief organisations and charities working with these beleaguered communities, including Canon Andrew White, the courageous Anglican vicar of Baghdad.
Some 100 years after the Armenian genocide, these contemporary events are a continuation of a systematic campaign of annihilation which was planned by one caliphate, abolished in 1924 by the Grand National Assembly of Turkey but continued by another caliphate under the guise of the Islamic State—Daesh—today. Mass graves, beheadings, rapes, forced conversions, lootings and confiscation of property, are, sadly, nothing new. Nor is our failure to respond adequately to acutely vulnerable minorities.
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This amendment is not about the misplaced free-for-all mistakenly promoted by Germany and now being urgently reassessed: nor is it about quotas or the unseemly bidding war about how many people any particular country has taken. Instead, the amendment focuses on a particularly vulnerable group of people now being subjected to genocide and argues that their asylum claims should be prioritised. Our first priority should always be those who have been singled out because of their religion, ethnicity or race. Although many people have been caught up in this suffering, we have particular obligations, as my noble friend highlighted, under the provisions of the Genocide Convention, to these minority groups. We also know that those who have been targeted do not represent a security threat to the United Kingdom and that, unlike for other categories of people, there are no countries in the region where they will be secure in the long term. They have nowhere to go.
In November I and my noble friend wrote to the Prime Minister, urging him to give priority to the most vulnerable—these minorities and children. We welcomed his decision to take vulnerable groups from holding countries such as Lebanon and Jordan, but we also pointed out that many of those fleeing from genocide have been too frightened to enter the camps and were living in informal settings, often without any help being given by UN agencies. In December, I was also a signatory to the letter sent to the Prime Minister—which my noble friend referred to—signed by 75 parliamentarians from both Houses and all sides, urging Her Majesty’s Government to name this genocide for what it is. So far, HMG have failed to do so—but, last week, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe declared that the treatment of Christians and Yazidis is indeed genocide.
Our colleagues in the House of Commons have been equally clear. I share with the House the wording of the all-party Motion tabled last week by a group of MPs in another place, which stated that,
“this House is appalled by the beheadings, crucifixions, shootings, burnings, other murders, torture, rape and extensive violence being perpetrated by Daesh or IS against Christians and other minorities in Syria and Iraq on the basis of religion and ethnicity; observes that this disgusting behaviour clearly falls within the definition of genocide as determined by the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide; notes the recent report from the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq,
Protection of Civilians in the Armed Conflict in Iraq
, which concludes that Daesh is holding approximately 3,500 slaves, mostly women and children in Iraq, primarily from the Yazidi community, and describes Daesh’s systematic and widespread violence as staggering, concluding that these acts amount to war crimes, crimes against humanity and possibly genocide; and calls on the Government to use all its influence at the UN to create a stated consensus that genocide is indeed being perpetrated so that the provisions of the Convention can urgently, legitimately and effectively be invoked and implemented”.
We should commend our colleagues, such as Mrs Fiona Bruce MP, the chair of the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission, who tabled that Motion, and we should give legislative force to an appropriate response to those who are suffering so grievously. This is urgent, as Christianity and ancient religions such as Yazidism are being wiped out in the Middle East.
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Last week’s hearing took place on Holocaust Memorial Day. Among those who participated was Major General Tim Cross. He has said:
“Crucially, the various minorities in the region are suffering terribly. There can be no doubt that genocide is being carried out on Yazidi and Christian communities—and the West/international community’s failure to recognise what is happening will be to our collective shame in years to come”.
He also pointed to the irony that while we are neglecting our duty to protect these minorities we have been opening the door to others who may threaten the very fabric of our society.
Major General Cross quoted the Lebanese Prime Minister, who told David Cameron that he believed that for every 1,000 migrants entering Europe illegally there are at least two extremists—inner-core jihadis—which means that around 16,000 IS fighters have probably entered Europe over the last year or so. While we have been doing this, we have failed to protect those to whom we have a specific duty under international law. Major General Cross said:
“Our dilemma is how we separate ‘values’ and ‘interests’”.
This amendment offers us the opportunity to uphold our values, especially our belief in the rule of law, while also protecting our interests.
If we are not prepared to respond to the victims of genocide, we must seriously ask whether we should remove our signature from the 1948 convention on the prevention and punishment of genocide. What is the point of being a signatory if we are not prepared to accept the obligation—to see, to judge and to act? If we do not take such obligations seriously, as the amendment urges us to do, it fundamentally undermines that convention.
To remind noble Lords of what our obligations are, the convention makes it clear that genocide is not a random killing of individuals but a systematic killing or serious harming of people because they are part of a recognisable group. That group may be,
“national, ethnical, racial or religious”.
The treaty identifies acts committed with intent to destroy that group,
“in whole or in part”.
The convention also covers within the term “genocide” a range of other acts already highlighted by my noble friend.
In short, international law is clear and undeniably covers the many horrors unleashed by ISIL/Daesh in the Middle East—and, I may point out, by Islamist extremists in other countries, including several African states such as northern Nigeria and Sudan, both of which I have visited in the last two months and where I saw comparable horrors and atrocities perpetrated.
If an international law, defined by treaty, is being flouted, and if hundreds of thousands of innocent people who are entitled to rely on the protection of that law are being killed, and millions are being driven from their homes, it is absolutely incumbent on the signatories to that treaty to take action to ensure that it is enforced. Sadly, however, to date the issue has not been high on the agenda of the leaders of more than 100 nations that are signatories to that convention.
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The convention is specific. The signatory nations may honour their commitments either by acting alone or by calling on the United Nations to prevent and punish genocide. That provision is hugely important in sending a clear message to the perpetrators of these dreadful acts: it warns them that they will be punished. So how can officials argue and give ambiguous replies that we can do nothing until others act? From the Nuremberg trials of the Nazi leaders after the Second World War to the more recent trials for genocide perpetrated in Rwanda and Bosnia, a very clear message should go out to all those involved in these evil movements of genocide. The message should be: the international community will, sooner or later, come for you. You will be found, you will be captured, you will be tried in accordance with the convention and you will be punished proportionately to your offence. And, as this amendment insists most importantly, we will care for those whom you target in these unspeakable ways.
I urge our Prime Minister and our Foreign Secretary to utter that one word, “genocide”. By using it in relation to the carnage befalling the Christians, Yazidis and other minorities in the Middle East, Her Majesty’s Government would be sending a clear message to ISIS and other groups that there will be a reckoning for their despicable actions.
In conclusion, Britain punches far above its weight in world diplomacy and international relations. We must ask our Government to have the courage to speak the right word to the international community and to follow the word with appropriate deeds. This amendment is an opportunity for us to do just that. At the very minimum, I hope that the Minister will undertake to go back to the Home Secretary and other ministerial colleagues and weigh these arguments with great care between now and Report.
Lord Forsyth of Drumlean (Con): My Lords, I apologise for not having taken part in any of the proceedings on this legislation. Quarter past 10 at night in the middle of the week seems, perhaps, not the best moment to set forth on this matter. However, I am ashamed to say that until I was briefed by a friend, Mr Graham Hutton, chairman of the Aid to the Church in Need, about the position of Christians in Syria and Iraq, I was wholly ignorant of the extent of the atrocities that are occurring.
I do not wish to detain the House by repeating examples that have been given by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and the noble Baroness, Lady Cox. Both of them are held in the highest regard in this House but, if I may say so, particularly the noble Baroness, who seems to put herself in harm’s way on behalf of people in trouble all over the world and to provide us with an authoritative account. So I say to my noble friend the Minister: throw away the brief from the Home Office and go back to the department and tell it what has been said this evening. I am certain that, despite the media coverage and the information that is available, people in this country have no idea of the extent of the horrors that are being perpetrated against Christians.
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In Syria, 56% of Christians have left during this conflict. The point about them is that they are not just fleeing civil war, they are fleeing persecution, and there is nowhere for them to flee to. If they go to the UN camps, they find themselves in fear and in danger because they are a minority there and subject to persecution. If they do not go to the official camps, they are not eligible under the Prime Minister’s programme to be brought to this country. So they have no place to go and wherever they go they live in fear. The magnitude of this catastrophe is enormous. I am told that, prior to 2003, there were 60,000 Christians in Mosul, and now there is none. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, has described the appalling atrocities that are going on day after day to people, including women and children, simply because they are Christians.
I do not wish to repeat the arguments about the 1948 convention on the prevention and punishment of genocide, except to say that it does say that genocide is the systematic killing or serious harming of people because they are part of a recognisable group. These people are being persecuted because they are Christians, and that is a recognised group. As has been pointed out, the importance of designating this as genocide is that it will enable us to take action and give these people sanctuary quickly and effectively as they need it.
I am told there are people who say that we cannot be seen to be discriminating in favour of Christians. Why not? This is a Christian country, and these people are in trouble because they are being discriminated against because of their religion. I say to the Minister that the plight we have heard of this evening is of fellow Christians, some of whom speak in the language of our saviour and who have been there since the birth of Christ himself. They are being driven out of their lands and horribly persecuted. We should not pass by on the other side. If it is impossible for the Government to adopt the suggestions contained in this amendment of recognising genocide for what it is, then at the very least they need to come up with some ideas as to how a safe haven can be provided for those Christians and how they can be helped by us, a Christian country with a historic record of being there for those in need.
When I studied history at university, I could never really understand how it was that the Nazi persecution of the Jews was allowed to go on for so long and that people were either unaware or unwilling to take action. In those days, there was at least the excuse that people might not know because communications were difficult. We know what is going on in Syria and Iraq daily, from the internet and the videos and the information provided. Even at this late hour, I hope that the Minister will take on board what has been said on this amendment and, if he cannot accept the amendment, that the Government will take some effective and urgent action to deal with those Christians, our brothers and sisters, in Syria and Iraq.
Lord Dubs (Lab): My Lords, anyone who went to any of the events connected with Holocaust Memorial Day just a few days ago will know that people said in 1945, “Never again”. Then we had serious tragedies and genocides in Bosnia, South Sudan and elsewhere. We keep saying that it must never happen again but it still does. I found the arguments put by the three
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Members of the Committee who have spoken to the amendment very powerful. They are in the spirit of the commitments made on Holocaust Memorial Day—“Never again”. They are saying that because it is still happening we have to do something about the victims. I very much support the amendment.
Lord Marlesford (Con): My Lords, the Government should be rather ashamed that this debate is necessary. It has taken the whole consideration of the Bill on to a different plane from all the other amendments that I have listened to. It is so terrible that so-called diplomacy should be unable to do what is right. I have been deeply shocked that the Government, in being asked to give priority to Christians among the 20,000 Syrians who we are to admit during this Parliament as refugees, have said that they cannot do so because they cannot discriminate. The whole concept of refugees and asylum is discrimination. It is giving succour to those who need succour. I will go no further except to say that if the amendment were to come back to the House at Report and the Government resist it, they would be overwhelmingly and humiliatingly defeated.
Lord Judd (Lab): My Lords, apart from all the powerful arguments of support that have been put forward, the speech by the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, is one that we must all take particularly seriously. No one in this House has put their own life more on the line on issues of this kind than she has, and she has consistently done that with great courage. When she comes to us and says, “Please take this one step that would help, in terms of all that I have experienced”, we must take that seriously. I also feel very deeply that there is a real crisis in credibility with populations across the world. Governments speak with great rhetoric about these issues, but sometimes fail to provide the practical evidence that that rhetoric adds up to anything. Here is a chance to demonstrate that we mean what we say.
Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, from these Benches I support the amendment. When I first started going to ceremonies to mark Holocaust Memorial Day, what struck me most were the current examples that were used and of which we were reminded. Each year a theme is chosen and it is salutary to realise how topical those themes are. This is topical. There are many groups of people who are the subject of the treatment which has been described, and it has been notable during debate on this Bill how many noble Lords have referred to the experiences of their families. We may not be directly related to the people who are in such a situation, but as noble Lords have pointed out, we are all part of that one family.
Lord Wigley (PC): My Lords, I had not intended to intervene in this debate either, but having listened to the noble Lords, Lord Alton and Lord Forsyth, and others, I cannot help but raise a voice on behalf of the Christian community. We are to a greater or lesser extent Christians in this country. We may not be very good Christians, but the idea that we cannot intervene on behalf of a Christian community because we might be discriminating strikes me as being absolutely
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unacceptable and appalling. I hope that the Government will take close notice of that and think about this serious issue.
Lord Bates: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for his moving speech. He spoke with his typical passion, and the way he presented the arguments and the accounts he gave have certainly had a great effect on me. I think that he has done a great service to the Committee by drawing the plight of Christians in the Middle East to our attention. My noble friend Lord Forsyth invited me to tear up my speech before he had actually had an opportunity to hear it, and of course he invited me to do it while I am currently enjoying the privilege of the company of the Chief Whip, who perhaps is little worried that I might take my noble friend’s advice.
I feel very strongly about this. We cannot be anything other than moved by the brutality and evil that we are seeing unleashed in the Middle East by Daesh. I have seen something of the situation for myself on a personal visit to Zahlé, which is the capital city of the Bekaa Valley and a Christian community. I am acutely aware of the pressures to which people are subject out there. However, I cannot accept that this Government are not doing everything they can; we are leading the way. We are in the week—tomorrow, I think—when the Prime Minister will host a conference on Syria here in London, just across the way. He will urge other people to step up to the mark. A DfID report pointed out that Britain is paying more than its fair share. It recognised that we are paying 226% of our international obligation in terms of cash to support people in the region. We are hosting the event and acting diplomatically by urging for a solution to the crisis, and of course we are also acting militarily in the region.
We need to put on the record some of these points because I think some myths are arising within the Christian community, and I say this very carefully as a member of that community. Some myths are emerging about where the discrimination occurs. We are not saying that Christians will not be considered but that they will be considered on an individual basis, and the criteria we are looking at, particularly within the Syrian Vulnerable Person Resettlement scheme, include women and girls at risk, those in need of serious medical care, and the survivors of torture and violence. Of course, in all the accounts we have heard about, they would certainly seem to be people who would qualify under that definition by what they have suffered and what they have experienced when they present to the authorities rather than by a general description. That is the central case we have put. At the moment, the basic principle is that applicants for refugee status must establish their need for protection on an individual basis, and for that reason we do not think that putting this to the Supreme Court is necessarily the right way. We believe that under the current rules, we have the ability to help the people who are in need.
We also need to put on the record at this point that the people who are actually suffering the greatest brutality at the hands of Daesh are fellow Muslims in the region—and the Yazidis, the Kurdish groups, that are there as well. They are suffering, too, and our
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prime driving force when providing international humanitarian protection, which is what it is, is on the basis of need. That will continue to be our position.
I am very happy to meet noble Lords who have an interest in this area, with officials, to ensure that our system is sufficiently sensitive to understand what is happening on the ground—and the accounts of the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, and the experiences of the Bishop of Aleppo. We want that understanding so that it can inform our decision-making and ensure that our system is correct and appropriate. I reiterate that those Christians who are female, at risk of persecution, survivors of torture and/or violence are exactly the people that our systems of humanitarian aid in the region and our systems of relocation to this country are designed to help.
Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: I am grateful to my noble friend. I entirely accept what he says about Muslims being subject to horrors as well as Christians, but could he deal with the point that the problem for Christians is that they cannot go to the official camps because they fear for their safety, because, once again, they are a minority? Is there any possibility of creating some kind safe haven? That in itself may create a further security problem for them. The genocide point is that it would enable immediate action to be taken.
Lord Bates: Certainly, the situation is that we would take families from within the camps and from the surrounding areas. It is not exclusively from the camps; it is those who are identified as being in greatest need. The noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, raises an interesting point on the camps. I shall certainly feed that back to the department and seek some reassurance, and perhaps write to him and other noble Lords on what protections are arranged in the camps where DfID and others are involved to be sensitive to the needs of Christians.
Lord Alton of Liverpool: I thank my noble friend Lady Cox, the noble Lords, Lord Forsyth, Lord Dubs, Lord Marlesford and Lord Judd, the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee and the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, for their contributions to the debate and for supporting the amendment. I thank the Minister as well for the characteristic way in which he has tried to deal with the arguments that have been raised during our debate.
He mentioned the conference that will be taking place tomorrow. Last week I attended a briefing that was hosted by Justine Greening, the Secretary of State at the Department for International Development. Throughout the presentation, not once was the position of minorities mentioned. I specifically raised that at the end of the presentation and the Secretary of State was helpful in her response, but it was not a presentation about events on the ground; it was about money being provided in humanitarian relief and aid. Important though that is, it is not the subject of the amendment and it is not the subject of my concern. I pay tribute to the Government for what they have done by way of humanitarian aid and I agree with them that countries such as Germany, which is co-hosting the conference, need to do more on that front and that we need to
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tackle these problems at source. Until we rectify some of the reasons why people are being driven out of their homeland, we will continue to see this exodus of biblical proportions.
The Minister and I are on the same page on that. I agree with what the Government are doing in that respect, but money and aid are not the same as recognising what is happening on the ground as a genocide. That is why I cited the resolution of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe last week. We will see what the European Parliament decides today, but other national Parliaments, the 75 Members of both Houses, and the Motion referred to by my noble friend in the House of Commons last week say something altogether different, which is why the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, said he was ashamed that this debate was necessary at all. So am I in many respects; we should not need to be debating this.
The Supreme Court is different from the Government. It is one step aside. If there is no evidence to demonstrate that there is genocide then the Supreme Court would say that. The Justices of the Supreme Court would make that determination and nothing further would have to happen. But if it decided that there was a prima facie case of genocide, then it would kick-start all the other things that need to happen, especially the special status that would then be given to those groups who had been targeted. Yes, they include Christians, but not Christians alone. They would be prioritised because they are victims of genocide. That would be the reason.
I am grateful for what the noble Lord said about meeting those of us who proposed the amendment tonight. I welcome that and certainly I would be happy to take part in discussions between now and Report, but it is important that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Ministry of Justice and DfID, which the Minister referred to, are also part and parcel of that discussion. I know that some of the pressures against doing something on this issue have come from other departments.
We were told during this brief debate that we should recognise the magnitude of this catastrophe, but people had no idea of the scale of what is happening. There cannot be decent societies in the Middle East without plurality, diversity, tolerance and respect. Surely those have to be the reasons why we put this at the very top of the agenda. I have said before that Einstein’s definition of insanity is simply doing the same thing over and over again. Whatever military campaigns we have, however necessary it may be to engage in military action, will not fundamentally change things on the ground. What marks us out as different from organisations such as ISIS is our belief in the rule of law. Surely this goes to the very heart of what it means to believe in the rule of law and to uphold conventions that we are signatories to and which impose on us a duty to protect and to prosecute.
I beg leave to withdraw the amendment, but I also give notice that I intend to bring this back on Report if we are unable to make appropriate progress.
Amendment 234A withdrawn.
Amendment 234AA not moved.
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